[Screen It]


(2020) (Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova) (R)

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Comedy: A Kazakhstani filmmaker travels to America where he ultimately tries to give his 15-year-old daughter as a bribe-gift to Vice-President Mike Pence.

Ever since he embarrassed his country by appearing in his first film shot in America, Borat Sagdivev (SACHA BARON COHEN) has been locked away in a prison labor camp. But with Donald Trump coming to power, a Kazakhstani government official decides to let Borat out if he can deliver a bribe to Vice-President Mike Pence in order to have their country's premiere added to the world's strong-man club.

Borat arranges for his country's star, "Johnny the Monkey" to be the bribe gift for Pence, but he's startled when he finds his 15-year-old near feral daughter, Tutar (MARIA BAKALOVA), in the crate along with the dead and partially eaten chimp.

Borat thinks all hope is lost until he gets the idea to give Tutar as the gift and then sets out to learn and deploy all of the ways to make Tutar as attractive as possible, from a beauty makeover to debutante school and more. Repeatedly running into obstacles and setbacks, Borat must keep modifying his plan, eventually setting his sights on Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10

"They're gonna put me in the movies
They're gonna make a big star out of me
We'll make a film about a man that's sad and lonely
And all I got to do is act naturally

Well, I hope you come and see me in the movie
Then I'll know that you will plainly see
The biggest fool that's ever hit the big time
And all I got to do is act naturally."

"Act Naturally" Songwriters Johnny Russell, Voni Morrison

While watching "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" -- the sequel to the 2006 ambush comedy "Borat" -- the above lyrics -- first sung by Buck Owens and later The Beatles -- came to mind. And not because lead actor Sacha Baron Cohen used that first film to become a movie star celebrity in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Instead, it's because so many people apparently don't mind being the butt of a joke as long as they know they're going to be in the finished film. It's sort of like rushing to a live TV camera and jumping around and waving, making a fool of oneself simply in order to have their family and friends say they saw them on TV.

In this follow-up offering Cohen reprises his titular character and returns to America to make fun of our current state of affairs that haven't changed much -- notwithstanding a different administration and COVID-19 that ends up with a substantial part in the film -- since the original came out. But what I'm surprised by but not entirely shocked at is the number of people who presumably signed off to allow their faces and behavior to be on display for all to see (only a scant few have their faces blurred out) despite (or maybe because of) how they're portrayed.

Granted, I doubt that applies to one Rudy Giuliani who appears near the end in a huge (and creatively edited) gotcha moment featuring an actress playing a young and pretty TV reporter from Kazakhstan. After flirting with him, she invites the former mayor into a hotel bedroom for drinks where she proceeds to partially pull his pants from his trousers to remove his microphone (during which he puts his hand on the small of her back).

He's then seen lying fully back on the bed with his hand down inside his pants (initially, it appears, to tuck his shirt in, but the hand lingers inside there for a bit). Cohen's Borat character then rushes in wearing a bra and under, yelling that she's only 15 (in reality, the actress is 24), before rushing away from the flustered Giuliani.

All of which has already given the film lots of press before its release and is pretty much the only notable thing in this offering that, like its predecessor, aims at low-hanging fruit and mixes observational political satire with crude and purposefully politically incorrect humor. I'll admit that I chuckled a few times (mainly at some of the smaller creative details, such as the ever-changing subtitle that officially ends up as "Delivery Of Prodigious Bribe To American Regime For Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan"), but for the most part this just feels like more of the same old, same old and an unnecessary continuation of what Cohen already did and proved the first time around.

The plot is fairly simple. Having been imprisoned since the last film embarrassed his country, Borat is given a shot of redemption if he can gain admittance for his country's premiere in the unofficial strongman club of the world (presumably consisting of Putin, Kim Jung-Un, and Donald Trump). All he has to do is deliver a gift to Vice-President Mike Pence and all will be forgotten.

And the bribe du jour is none other than Johnny the Monkey, a chimp known as Kazakhstan's number one porn star. Unfortunately for Borat, his near-feral 15-year-old daughter (Maria Bakalova, who ultimately steals the movie from under Cohen) who he barely knows and barely considers above livestock has stowed away in the shipping crate and consumed most of poor Johnny.

Realizing he has no alternative, he decides he'll give Pence his daughter instead. All of which necessitates visits to the hairdresser, dress store, a social media influencer, a debutante coach, and so on to give young Tutar a makeover worthy of the VP. Since none of them are listed in the credits as actors, I'm guessing all of those -- and others -- they interact with are real, but considering a camera is obviously present (rather than hidden), something just feels off about this sort of ambush comedy this time around (as if some of it's been staged)

Then again, as Buck Owens sang so long ago, there are plenty of fools who end up in the movies. If you can't get enough of the Borat character and him portraying and picking on the ignorant among us, you might have a grand time watching the shenanigans. For me, once was enough and there's nothing new here -- save for the Giuliani part and all of the lurid meets national security implications it brings -- to warrant another heaping. "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" rates as a 4.5 out of 10.

Reviewed October 21, 2020 / Posted October 23, 2020

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